Shower Hokey Pokey: 1-minute a day to decrease your stress

I put my right leg in. I take my right leg out. I put my left leg in. And I think you can guess some of the next steps, but why am I doing this in the shower?

After my normal warm shower, I turn the temperature to cold and step aside. Then I put one limb at a time into the stream of cold water, usually with that silly children’s song going through my head. I have to confess I don’t usually do this in the wintertime, only summer.

The theory is that exposing yourself very briefly to cold water helps your body learn to adapt to stress. Cold is one of our most ancient stressors, and our body can use it to learn to respond to all stress better. We can’t necessarily do the same thing by exposing ourselves to terrible traffic or bad bosses in short doses.

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A small study showed that a 1-minute cold shower at the end of a regular shower increased immune function and decreased the number of colds among participants. Improved immune activity is just one of the benefits from improving one’s stress response. By balancing out our cortisol response to stress we can potentially increase our energy, mood, memory, and metabolism. Elevated stress levels can also contribute to cardiovascular disease and blood sugar issues. So this simple 1-minute activity has the potential to help our health in numerous and profound ways.

The exposure to cold water might also improve metabolism as the body warms itself back up. This could possibly help some of us achieve our weight loss goals.

In addition to doing the shower hokey pokey, I take adaptogenic herbs to further improve my stress response. These herbs can help with all of the issues I mentioned above. I notice that they particularly help my stamina so I can work long days at my job and than some more on our farm. One of my favorite blends of adaptogenic herbs is Gaia Adrenal Health. It contains Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, and Schisandra. Other great adrenal herbs are Maca, Astragalus, and American Ginseng. Try a few to see if one works better for you.

Directions for the Shower Hokey Pokey

After your normal shower, turn the faucet to cold or at least cool and step away.

Put the back of your right leg in the cold stream. Take it out.

Put the back of your left leg in. Take it out.

Turn around and put the front of your right leg in. Take it out.

Then front of left leg.

Put the outside then inside of your right arm in.

Same with left arm.

Then put your chest and face into the cold water.

Turn around and get your back in briefly.

And that’s what it’s all about!

Maca Smoothies for More Vibrant Days

On hot summer days, I tend to have more smoothies for breakfast. Though there are many ingredients I love, the maca I am adding seems to contribute to my sense of wellbeing. This is probably because maca is an adaptogen and a hormone balancer.

By adaptogen, I am referring to maca’s ability to reduce the negative impact stress has on our bodies. We might still experience the stress, but it is not as harmful on our overall health. A recent study showed that women who experienced more stress burned fewer calories after eating a high fat meal compared to the women with fewer stressors. The study showed that the higher stress levels correlated with higher insulin levels, which can contribute to belly fat. The study didn’t address adaptogens like maca, but in theory, these types of herbs might improve insulin levels and therefore help our metabolism. I also find that adaptogens give me more stamina to get through long days.

Maca powder

Maca powder

The other popular benefit of maca is as a hormone balancer for both women and men. It is maybe most widely known as a libido enhancer. It isn’t going to necessarily help everyone since not all libido issues are related hormones, but for those cases, it can be a great choice. Consuming maca might also help conditions like prostate issues, PMS, hot flashes, acne, and even some types of depression.

Because maca is traditionally used in fairly large quantities, it is a perfect item to add to a smoothie or other food. I usually put 1-2 teaspoon in each smoothie. When I added 3 teaspoons I noticed a bit of a spicy radish-like taste that I didn’t like.

Here is my current smoothie recipe:

1 scoop Sunwarrior Chocolate Warrior Blend or other protein powder

1-2 tsp Barley grass or other greens powder

1-2 Maca powder

2 Tbs Almond butter or other nut butter or nuts

1 tsp Cacoa powder

1-2 Tbs ground Flaxseeds and or chia seeds

1 Tbs Coconut oil

1 to 1 ½ cups water

Blend in a blender until smooth with any of these other ingredients I might want that day:

Fresh or frozen fruits or veggies like avocado, baby greens, or sprouts

Coconut water to replace some of the water

¼ tsp Turmeric with a pinch of black pepper

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

½ -1 tsp of the turmeric paste I made for my Bulletproof Turmeric #2 recipe

You can also empty the contents of supplement capsules into the smoothie such as probiotics, amino acids, and herbal supplements. Basically any that doesn’t make the smoothie taste strange.

Make it something delicious that you love to drink and enjoy some vibrant days this summer.

Drink Your Turmeric for Better Health: Bulletproof turmeric part 2

My bulletproof turmeric recipe has been very popular, partially because it is delicious and an excellent way to consume a more absorbable form of turmeric. I chose the ingredients for the recipe because I wanted to encourage people to consume whole turmeric instead of just the isolated “main” component, curcumin. The other constituents of turmeric have medicinal attributes of their own and can actually help increase the absorption of curcumin. If you do need that additional boost from the isolated curcumin, open up a capsule and add it to this blend.

Turmeric is such a tremendously useful medicinal herb and has been consumed as part of foods and teas for centuries. In additional to its inflammation modulating benefits, turmeric is high in antioxidants that might help prevent cancer and dementia. Among its gastrointestinal benefits, turmeric can help protect the liver and stimulate the gall bladder thereby improving digestion. It has also been shown to reduce the incidences of gastrointestinal infection. Finally, turmeric can improve cholesterol and reduce blood clotting making it a great cardiovascular ally.

By drinking your medicinal herbs as teas, you can sometimes get a better feel for what is working for your body. You can start craving something more or you may decide that you like it less. This can be a reflection of what is going to work well for your unique self. I have found that I love my bulletproof turmeric tea more with coconut oil instead of the MCT oil. MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) are isolated from coconut oil, but again the more whole version of coconut oil is agreeing more with my body. It could just be the delicious coconut taste, but I think that the greater complexity of the coconut oil might provide some other components that I need.

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A quick note on MCT oil and coconut oil: There is a lot of hype of how these might help with weight loss. There could really be something to this. A colleague of mine has been working on his own substantial weight loss goal and has made some huge strides by taking the MCT oil shortly before meals. He has noticed it reducing his appetite as the literature claims. So, here we have yet another wonderful use for coconut oil along with the brain boost some people notice from it.

Here is my original recipe for bulletproof turmeric tea:

1 cup water

1 tsp turmeric (optionally add one capsule of curcumin 95% extract)

¼ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maca (optional, but delicious)

1 Tbs grass fed butter

1 Tbs coconut oil or MCT oil

1 tsp honey

Simmer water with turmeric and garam masala for 10 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

Add remaining ingredients and whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

Before-and-After-Blending

Bulletproof Turmeric Before and After Blending

This week I am trying a different variation. I am making a turmeric paste that I can store for future use. Most turmeric pastes are turmeric and water, but mine is turmeric and coconut oil.

Bulletproof turmeric #2

4 tsp turmeric

1-2 tsp garam masala

½ cup coconut oil

Melt the coconut oil and mix in the spices. Cook on low for 10 minutes. Stain immediately and store for later use. (If you have time let the mixture cool before straining, then remelt and strain)

When ready to use, mix 2 Tbs of this mixture with:

1 cup boiling water

1 tsp honey

And optionally, 1 tsp maca and/or contents of 1 curcumin capsule

Whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

This paste can also be used to season many savory dishes like stir-fry and curries.

Bulletproof Turmeric: An Herbal Alternative to Bulletproof Coffee

Bulletproof coffee isn’t the only way to have a delicious brain-boosting beverage. You can boost your cognitive function with curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin protects the brain from cognitive deterioration caused by stress. But I don’t know anyone who is dealing with stress! Especially not the law students who are popularizing the bulletproof coffee recipe in this area.

For my bulletproof turmeric, I have used coconut oil, butter, honey, and spices to optimize digest and the absorption of curcumin. Curcumin is notoriously difficult to absorb, but fats and spices, particularly the black pepper in the garam masala, greatly increase our absorption of curcumin into the blood stream.

Turmeric and Garam Masala

Bulletproof Turmeric

1 cup water

1 tsp turmeric (optionally add one capsule of curcumin 95% extract)

¼ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maca (optional, but delicious)

1 Tbs grass fed butter

1 Tbs coconut oil or MCT oil

1 tsp honey

Simmer water with turmeric and garam masala for 10 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

Add remaining ingredients and whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

Bulletproof turmeric

Bulletproof turmeric before and after blending

There are many possible variations to this recipe. Add coffee if you like that boost or cinnamon if you are working on blood sugar issues. Since this recipe doesn’t have caffeine, it can be drunk later in the day than bulletproof coffee.

This turmeric drink is also an excellent choice for people dealing with inflammation, pain, or elevated cholesterol. A recent study has confirmed that curcumin reduces knee pain associated with osteoarthritis. Curcumin is helping others achieve healthier cholesterol levels. In addition to having some nootropic benefits, turmeric might also help clear Alzheimer’s plaques from the brain.

The benefits of turmeric are numerous, and while you might not feel the same jolt you would from a cup of coffee, turmeric provides long-term protection to the mind and body on multiple levels.

P.S. For those of you who follow my blog, my bulletproof turmeric tea recipe originated from my healthy food experiment . Turmeric is the second food I chose. I wanted to try it in tea form and came up with this recipe. For a simpler tea recipe, try this one from Dr. Weil.

Would You Like to do a Healthy Food Experiment with me?

This food experiment was inspired by a recent consultation with a patient who had found that if she regularly ate avocados and apples, she felt significantly healthier. I theorized that the fats in the avocados were enhancing her absorption of the nutrients and antioxidants in her other veggies. The apples were maybe helpful as a source of quercetin, which has antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

I frequently have patients do food experiments to help them figure out foods that are wrong for them, but this recent patient got me thinking about new ways to find the foods that are right for a particular individual. Since we are all unique, our nutritional needs differ slightly from person to person. I always recommend a varied diet to help people get the wide range of nutrients and antioxidants they need and maybe hit on those foods that really resonate with them.

blueberries

But to see if you can find a few foods that really help you feel vibrant, try this experiment with me. Check out the list of the 100 healthiest foods from World’s Healthiest Foods. Pick 10 or so foods from that list that appeal to you in some way. Try to choose a few foods that you haven’t eaten much before or are in season right now, like blueberries. For each food, eat a normal serving or two for three days in a row, while eating normally otherwise. Then try the next food on your list and so on. Take notice if there is one or more of these foods that you feel better after eating or you start liking more, or even craving! You could also find one that doesn’t agree with you. Just because it is healthy doesn’t mean it is the right food for everyone.

For each of these foods, World’s Healthiest Foods has a description of the health and nutrient benefits. Plus, there are recipes to inspire you with different way to prepare your chosen foods.

The same principle can be applied to herbs. If you take an herbal tincture or tea for three days in a row, often it will start tasting better to you (or at least more tolerable) by the end of those three days. This can be a message from your body that an herb is right for you and your tastes are adjusting to accommodate to what is healthier for you. If you don’t tolerate the taste any better, maybe try another herb that has the benefits you are looking for. Many of my friends have found that they like Kava kava better after trying it for a while, but it doesn’t agree with one so she uses California poppy instead to help her relax.

This experiment could be a great way to explore new foods and become more attuned with your body at the same time. I would love to hear about what you have learned from this experiment, so please leave a comment.

Epigenetics, Pesticides, and Your Health

We have made amazing strides in recent years in understanding the human genome. Many researchers have been surprised to discover that the DNA sequence doesn’t adequately explain why some of us are more susceptible to diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Instead they have found that the nutrition available to our grandparents can have a profound affect on our health and longevity via what are known as epigenetic changes.

Epigenetics translates literally to “upon the genes.” For example, a common epigenetic change is where a chemical compound known to us nerds as a methyl group is added to the DNA. It doesn’t change the basic code but it changes whether that particularly gene is expressed. Many studies have shown that cancer patients have much lower amounts of these methyl groups on their DNA than the average population.

Besides the availability of food, environmental exposures also lead to epigenetic changes. Higher exposure to pesticides and other chemicals is associated with fewer methyl groups on the DNA. This is leading some scientists to propose that epigenetic changes is one way that pesticides and pollutants contribute to cancer, diabetes, autism, and even attention deficit disorder.

fruits-vegetables

To avoid these negative epigenetic changes that may affect not only your health but also that of your children and grandchildren, it is important to make lifestyle changes to reduce your chemical exposure. Eat organic foods as much as possible. I especially make sure that meat and other foods containing fat are organic because pesticides can be stored in fats. Other chemicals that can influence our epigenetics are the phthalates found in many personal care products and BPA in many plastic food containers, so it is important to use clean body care products and safe food packaging.

Because pesticides can persist in the environment for decades, it is important to consider detoxification even with a clean diet. It is particularly beneficial to support our glutathione pathway, the enzyme system that neutralizes many toxins including some common pesticides. N-acetyl cysteine is an amino acid that helps us make glutathione and is one of my favorite supplements for detoxification. Finally, exercise both helps us detoxify and has been shown to improve our epigenetic markers.

Heart Disease Awareness

In response to my last blog on the connection between heart disease and depression, healthline.com send me this link to their excellent infographic on heart disease statistics. Being an Arkansan, I noted that Arkansas is one of the Deadly Dozen, the top 12 states with the highest rate of cardiovascular death. Well, my Arkansas grandfather did die of a heart attack way too young, and I do partially blame his biscuit and bacon diet.

http://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease-infographic

A Connection between Depression and Heart Disease

In popular culture, the heart is often considered to be the seat of our emotions. We love and grieve with our hearts. From a biological point of view, we understand the heart as the organ that pumps blood through our bodies. But there is something more than that to the heart. I know I am not the only one who has experienced chest pain due to a stressful situation. I was too young to really worry that it was heart disease, but did still consider that possibility because of my family history. Ultimately, I made some changes in my life and the chest pains went away completely. The reason for this phenomenon is that stress changes the signals that the heart gets from the brain. While theses signals might be useful if we need to run from a bear, they can be detrimental when we are sitting at a desk.

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Not only can stress affect our hearts, but depression can too. A large study examining English civil servants showed found participants that showed signs of depression were more likely to have heart attacks. Another study demonstrated that using therapy to depression helped prevent the development of heart disease. In fact, the participants who did not have heart disease at the beginning of the study and received counseling where 47% less likely to have a major cardiovascular event compared to those who didn’t get the same treatment for depression.

This connection between heart disease and depression might explain why some supplements are good for both the brain and the heart. A prime example is fish oil, which is probably one of the most popular cardiovascular health supplements. Countries that consume more fish and have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of coronary artery disease. Another major use of fish oil is to help treat mood issues and depression. Could this last benefit contributing to the cardiovascular advantages of taking fish oil? And to learn more about one possible genetic contribution to both depression and heart disease, check out my recent blog on methylfolate.

An important consideration for depression is that not everyone manifests the same symptoms. Generally the signs to look for are feeling sad, hopeless, anxious and sleeping or eating too much or too little, but some people’s depression manifests as tiredness, irritability or even angry. While there are different causes of depression from situational issues like loss of a loved one to genetic and brain chemistry variations, some of these symptoms seem to be connected to lack of fulfillment in life. It can be hard to find truly fulfilling roles and careers in our modern world and too many people end up working at a job just because that is the one available. I am not saying quit your job, but if you can, weigh these possible long term health concerns when choosing a career. And know that counseling and learning stress coping skills can be genuinely useful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Flavors, But Don’t Forget Bitter

Some cooking traditions focus on artfully combining the flavors our tongue perceives. The five flavors are sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter. American cuisine doesn’t emphasize bitter as much as some other cultures. We will have coffee after a meal for something bitter or dark chocolate or maybe some slightly bitter greens in our salads.

Bitter is often thought of as an undesirable flavor, but it does have significant digestive benefits. The taste of something bitter on our tongues helps shift our nervous system to rest and digest mode and away from fight or flight mode. This is extremely important for getting the most out of our food. When we taste something bitter, our bodies increase their production and release of digestive enzymes. Bitters also improve muscle tone in the digestive tract and stimulate the liver, aiding in detoxification.

Gentian

Gentian

As I mentioned, we can add bitter tasting foods to our diet. There are also bitter herbs that are traditionally used as digestive aids. These included gentian, chamomile, yarrow, blue flag iris, and Oregon grape root. Often five to fifteen drops of one of these herbs, or a blend such as the classic Swedish Bitters, is taken with a small amount of water a few minutes before meals. Some people use these herbs instead of digestive enzymes. Bitters may also help relieve indigestion when taken after a meal, but slightly higher doses might be needed. Another classic use of bitters is for reduced appetite.

So chose delicious nutritious foods and get the most out of them by ensuring you have optimal digestion. Bitters can be a great way to stimulate a sluggish digestive tract.

Playing in the Dirt

I didn’t write my usual blog last week because I took a week off to do some planting, but so far this is all I have to show for it: mud from the knees down.

Mud from knees down

My husband and I own a small organic farm called Downstream Farm Organic Produce. I was focusing on planting our red okra, which we sell at Ozark Natural Foods later in the summer. As well as growing food for ONF and local restaurants, my husband and I produce about 50% of our food. We do this to have the freshest, highest quality foods, and I find digging in the soil to be a therapeutic activity.

We keep our gardening as simple as possible so we can have time to grow the volume that we do. We amend the soil with our compost and organic nutrient from Nitron Industries. We mulch heavily and water with soaker hoses on a rotation. We weed and remove bugs mostly by hand. Mostly, our success is because we focus varieties that grow well with few pests in this region.

As well as the red okra, I find that a wide variety of peppers grow with ease here along with tomatoes, especially the Arkansas Traveler. But we round out the selection with onions, garlic, cucumbers, carrots, greens, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, dry beans, basil, and many other herbs. High Mowing Seeds have had an excellent germination rate for us in general.

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My favorite gardening tool is actually this masonry trowel. I use it for mixing in nutrients when I set in plant starts, and it is great for weeding.

Even if you aren’t going to plant rows and rows of okra like me, plant a few herb or flowers. Do what you can to play in the dirt and enjoy its calming benefits.